Higher priority for property crime? Seattle Police’s new plans

At a City Council committee briefing that wrapped up minutes ago, Seattle Police explained new plans for responding to property-crime calls … the most common types of crime that neighborhoods deal with day in, day out. Here’s the slide deck with toplines:

… and here’s what was announced via SPD Blotter:

The Seattle Police Department is taking new steps to address property crime and street disorder, including additional training for officers and potentially changing how 911 calls are handled.

The department, for example, is considering increasing the priority of calls that come in regarding property crime, and dedicating staff to handle non-emergency calls, to reduce wait times.

SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers outlined the plan to Seattle City Council members on Wednesday. The department is making the changes in response to recent community concerns raised about property crimes, disorder, and the amount of time 911 callers spend waiting on the phone for non-emergency crimes.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole last month ordered a review of how the department handles property crime and disorder.

Property crimes, including auto thefts and car prowls, are up significantly compared to last year, however the department has been bending the curve in recent months with an increased emphasis on “low-level” crimes. For example, there was a 34 percent drop in auto thefts and a 25 percent decrease in car prowls, from October to November of this year.

“Are we claiming victory? Absolutely not,” Wagers said. “It just shows that by focusing attention on the right places and the right people we can have an impact.”

New actions being taken by SPD include issuing a department-wide directive to officers outlining the importance of focusing on property crimes. The directive will stress that dealing with those types of crimes “is important to the citizens and it’s putting us in touch with offenders we need to engage,” Wagers said.

The Department also is providing comprehensive instructions and training for tracking electronic devices such as cell phones and computers. SPD has already created a technical point of contact for officers to call in case there’s confusion, such as whether a search warrant is needed to enter a home where a GPS signal pinpoints a stolen device.

In addition, a team will be created to examine how SPD handles digital technologies including GPS signals, and digital images of suspected criminals taken by citizens. The team will report back to the chief in January.

SPD also wants to partner with the private sector to create an information management system that can pull in reports of crime from a variety of sources, ranging from a traditional filing at a police station to information that comes in through social media.

Many of the proposed changes deal with 911 calls. While the department has gotten high marks from Seattle residents regarding police response to emergencies, there have been complaints about how long people sometimes wait to report other types of crimes, such as car prowls.

Currently, non-emergency calls are diverted to a phone tree that directs callers based on types of crimes. Waiting times can be extensive.

The department is considering a number of steps including dedicating staff to non-emergency calls to reduce wait times, and using new software to provide other options, such as having 911 call back when a dispatcher is free, or perhaps even schedule a time for a return call.

14 Replies to "Higher priority for property crime? Seattle Police's new plans"

  • dsa December 3, 2014 (4:29 pm)

    It may not be a life and death type emergency, but if you can’t get an immediate response to a car prowl the perp will be gone.

  • Diane December 3, 2014 (4:45 pm)

    I was listening to this meeting while working, and surprised at the presentation/discussion re 911 calls; having been at many community meetings with police talks, and SW precinct crime prevention meetings, even a detailed presentation by the guy who runs the downtown 911 center; we’ve been told a billion times to call 911, even if not sure whether it’s emergency; on the other hand, at many community meetings I’ve heard many people say they call and call and call and get no response; so to hear today about the problems with 911 system, that many calls get bumped back to non-emergency, and may take hours for response (or never?); CM Sally Bagshaw was pushing for “we need this fixed now”; I agree

  • Really??? December 3, 2014 (6:20 pm)

    This is ridiculous. The police need to prioritize real crime at all times, period. But no, precious cars are being messed with!! Oh won’t somebody please think of the poor defenseless cars!!!!

    But in all seriousness, just put Danny Westneat on speed dial. He’ll write up one of his single-anecdote, zero-facts, faux-outrage, scare stories for you. Then SPD will scrape and grovel to appease him.

  • JayDee December 3, 2014 (6:20 pm)

    I am glad to hear property crimes will have a slightly higher priority, but two things come to mind: Resources are a net zero game–moving cops from one priority to another means the first priority gets short-shrift…now if the shift was from drones and beach cameras, great.

    Secondly, lauding a 25% drop in car prowls from October to November is not correct. Remember how nice October was (for the most part), and how different November was climate wise? That is likely to blame, not a change in policing. Hard to case a car if the window is covered in frost. And it is cold and rainy. Compare October 2013 to October 2014 if you are serious.

  • sam-c December 3, 2014 (7:46 pm)

    I’m glad they are taking a look at the non-emergency call line. Every time I’ve tried that line, I’ve never reached a live person from the phone tree. “blah blah blah, if XXXX, press 0, (press 0), blah blah blah, if XXX press 1 (press 1), blah blah blah, if XXX press 0 (press 0), blah blah blah if XXX press 2 (press 2), blah blah blah, if XXX, press 0 (press 0), if XXX, press 3 (press 3), if XXX press 0 (press 0), if XXX… “ad infinitum..

  • ChefJoe December 3, 2014 (7:50 pm)

    Umm, the monthly stats always fluctuate.

    For example, 2014 June Vehicle thefts were up 76% compared to June 2013. Also, the Nov stats in 2014 for vehicle theft are 382 vs 384 in 2013.

  • Sheep December 3, 2014 (8:24 pm)

    “Drafting a Directive to remind officers of the significance of minor crimes” Brilliant! That’l do it! The “Sheep” will be happy with that.

  • Katie December 3, 2014 (8:33 pm)

    The information technologies task force is intriguing. There are so many powerful new info gathering tools, always evolving, often in uncharted ethical territory. It could also really change how staff is deployed.

  • Seymore December 4, 2014 (8:24 am)

    Why are people calling 911 for a non-emergency in the first place? Then they complain because they are transferred to a non-emergency line where they have to wait? So they are going to have more dedicated staff now answering non emergency calls. Where are these dedicated staff coming from?

    • WSB December 4, 2014 (8:39 am)

      Seymore, it’s been made clear *by* police (we have reported on a multitude of discussions of 911 at the Crime Prevention Council, Blockwatch Captains Network, etc.) that the same people answer all lines anyway and their initial question is intended to properly route you depending on what’s going on, so the self-sorting of “which number do I call” is somewhat moot anyway, apparently. – TR

  • Seymore December 4, 2014 (9:29 am)

    So if the same people answer 911 and non emergency calls and they are moving staff to answer more none emergency calls where is that staff coming from? 911? The emergency line? Great, so now emergency calls to 911 will wait so the 911 operator can talk to someone about their car break in that happened last week that they could report online while someone calling with a heart attack waits on hold? Is that what we are saying?

  • Lonnie December 4, 2014 (10:51 am)

    The such high number of car prowls at the south Lincoln Park lot make no sense at at all. You would think that such an agency, knowing this being such a hot spot, would be able to set up a camera or a sting operation to quell this activity.

  • sey December 4, 2014 (1:53 pm)

    The city won’t allow camera’s

  • wsn00b December 4, 2014 (3:39 pm)

    So, if a residential intrusion or panic alarm goes off, what is the priority level for SPD?

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